Atheist Society of Nigeria

We seek a Nigeria where public policies are based on rational reasoning and critical thinking and not influenced by religious beliefs

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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Nigerian Freethinkers' Lament: Inside the Society, Outside the Culture

Dr. Leo Igwe wrote on the experiences of those who have renounced religion within Nigeria. Dr. Igwe, known to manty of us, founded the humanist movement within Nigerian society and has been a vocal opponent of fundamentalist religion and its manifestations in political and social life of Nigeria.
He remarks at the outset of some of the reportage about an event to take place in a small café in Kaduna. It was only supposed to be about a handful of people who would attend the event. But, in fact, there were violent clashes within Kaduna, which led to the reconsideration by the group for the event taking place in the first place. Eventually, the event never occurred.
Igwe stated, “There were concerns that some of the participants would stay away. Local activists advised that the event should be postponed until after the elections or be moved to Abuja where there would be limited concerns regarding security. The event was eventually moved to Abuja.”
With the transition or shift in location of the event, this impacted the budget and scale too. Here, we see violent outbreaks impacting the ways in which, even small events, for the non-religious community – and, in particular, the humanist community – can be derailed or increased in costs due to social life and safety concerns.
The last major event for humanists in Abuja was 2011. As the capital of Nigeria, the risks for apostates, as explained by Igwe, are simply different than the risks for other subpopulations within Nigerian society.
The topic for the event was “Leaving Religion: Risks, Challenges, and Opportunities.” It was intended for atheists, freethinkers, and humanists. Given the religious demographics of Nigerian society, we can see the ways in which Christians and Muslim simply dominate the numbers of the faithful, and also the total composition of the society.
40% are Christian. 40% are Muslim. Fewer than 5% are non-religious. Thus, Nigerians, as a default of the society, will reflect this too. Most professor a belief in a religion or a God. Some may do so – according to Igwe – out of fear of being rejected, punished, or persecuted by family members.
It is a form of familial and social, and probably communal, sanction from questioning the common core beliefs or faith propositions of the society.
Igwe stated, “In fact, if a proper census, that is devoid of fear, intimidation, threats of violent and nonviolent sanctions, is conducted, there may be more Nigerians who are non-religious or religiously indifferent, atheistic, agnostic than religious and theistic.
The January 12, 2019, date of the humanist program was, in fact, inconvenient for many of them. The expected attendees at the Abuja event would be about 30 to 40 people, not a staggering number. This is no way detracts from the importance of having a group of secular minded people come together and meet in public to share experiences, concerns, ideas, and plan for the growth of the community and advancement of the humanist values in society.
When the event did take place, more than 55 people came to it. It exceeded the expectations of the organizers. The event had three panels. One was chaired by Zachai  Bayei; a second by Mubarak Bala; and a third by Steve.
There were recounts of the experiences leaving Christianity and Islam. Then there was reflection on the reactions of the family members to them leaving the religion.
“The presentations generated many interventions from the audience. Participants narrated how they managed family relationships, marriages, and partnerships with religious parents, spouses, and in-laws,” Igwe stated, “including the different strategies that they used to come out to their parents and friends, children and other relatives. And other ways that they used to resist and contain religious hostilities.’
With the interjections from the audience, some things were abundantly clear to the attendees. Those who left religion or renounced their home faith in public went through significantly more persecution when they depended on their literal survival via the family: economically, socially, reputationally, and otherwise.
“Participants were strongly advised to try and maintain a low profile as dependants on religious relatives to avoid being victimized. Attendees were encouraged to try and be financially independent before going open and public as an apostate. With a good income and a job, apostates would be in stronger positions to resist hostile treatments and persecutions,” Igwe explained.
There was further discussion with the community of attendees on the ways that freethinkers have been empowered, including through the efforts of the Atheist Society of Nigeria. Igwe opined on that, in spite of the great difficulties for freethinkers and apostates in particular, the freethinkers and apostates were rather optimistic about the future of freethinking and apostates.
Igwe wrote, “Many ex Muslims said that they drew inspiration from the case of Mubarak Bala whose family consigned to a mental hospital after he renounced Islam. The convention ended with an election of an interim executive that Mubarak chairs. There was a social activity, the Bingo games, which Steve organized.”

What is particularly heartwarming about this, despite the persistent repression of the non-religious, the gathering included a variety of social and communal events for the participants. Moore information can be garnered through the full article by Igwe in the ink at the top.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

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